Coach Wooden

Proximity to Reality: Somos Cubanos

One of the most remarkable things in life is how wrong we are about our perceptions. That almost everything upon closer examination yields insights and new truths. Especially people, places, cultures, religions, and lifestyles we are not familiar with. The constant process of learning what we don't know empirically. 

One of my newer heroes is Bryan Stevenson. He has devoted his life to justice. Called the American Mandela, Stevenson is ripping back the curtain of mass incarceration and the pernicious legacy of racism. His Tedtalk, his latest book Just Mercy are to be added to your must experience list. His acceptance speech earlier this year for the 2016 Public Counsel awards dinner is among the best speeches I have ever heard. And I have seen and studied my share!

His speech is anchored on four principles to pursue change and greater understanding of difference. A fabulous structure to test our thinking about worlds we think we comprehend, people we think we know, and places we think we understand. This is how I interpret Bryan's advice:

Proximate: We have to get physically close to needs, issues, and people to learn the truth through reality. I know this sounds obvious, but much of our perspective about "homelessness", "refugees", "poverty", "Cuba", "black people" and "socialism" are gleaned through abstract and "distant" information.

Narrative: We have a story running in our head about these issues, ideas and people. These stories are reinforced through selective consumption, our biases, and with the limitations of empirical data.  How do we disrupt this story with facts and experiences? 

Uncomfortable: When we disrupt our cranial narratives with facts then we get shoved out of our comfort zones--we get understandably uncomfortable. Truth is the greatest source of discomfort, especially when it conflicts with our long held belief system. Discomfort wakes us up and we have to use our brains and think and feel again. Being uncomfortable is a necessary step in our journey to learn and grow. 

Hopeful: Gaining new perspectives through experience, opening new parts of our minds to new truths, and seeing new possibilities expands our hopefulness. Because when we learn new things we see how change is possible and that expands the pool of hope.

(Yes I have changed the order of these principles for my own purposes :)

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Me and Congresswoman Karen Bass

I recently was included on a special study tour of Cuba led by Congresswoman Karen Bass (One of the most dedicated public servants I have encountered) It was a mind blowing learning experience that changed me. I reflect on Stevenson's principles that helped me re-think everything "I knew" about Cuba. Except the food, music, art, rum and cigars, which are exquisite and met and exceeded my expectations!

US-Cuban relations have been so tortured and convoluted through hundreds of years of American history. We have viewed and treated Cuba as a possession and territory for generations prior to the revolution which triggered the ongoing embargo. Then Cuba was perceived as a  threat. Not enough space here to provide or review history. Suffice it to say that the US has imposed its will on this island country for the last 50 years.

We rarely think about Cuba, yet the Cuban people are big fans of Americans. We were greeted by colleagues and strangers with open arms and warm friendliness. I know, it is about the historic antagonistic systems and governments. It is about capitalism vs socialism. And Fidel vs JFK. Here's the deal, that was then and Cuba does not resemble those caricatures of the past. Globalization is here and Cuba has been benched and ostracized. This embargo is not just a political war of words it has really hurt the people. 50 years of no access to anything from the US from anywhere. That includes school materials, medicine and food. I know it was meant to punish the country, but that time passed and it is harming people who pose no threat to us today. As an embargoed country, Cuba is in the same company with North Korea, Iran, Ukraine and Syria. It makes no sense now. It hasn't for many years.

Everything I knew about Cuba was transformed by a closer examination.

The President Obama lifted some sanctions, travel and certain goods are no longer prohibited, but we need to open up our relationship to take full advantage of what Cuba has to offer. Cuban medical training is the envy of the world. They have free medical care from pre-natal to hospice. For example, Cuba has a robust bio-tech industry and have developed a drug called Cimavax which attacks lung cancer cells. NY state now has a few trials of Cimavax, the first medical exchange in 50 years! 

IMG_0287Visited the education system as well, which is totally free. By the way, Cuba's literacy rate is about 97%. In fact they have a Museum of Literacy! We visited ELAM (Latin American Medical School) where students from 110 countries receive free medical training. Free room and board and a stipend! We met a number of US students there who are receiving a world class education centered on the patient. Cuba is famous for providing doctors to Haiti, Africa, and other disaster torn countries. 

As ethno-centric Americans we worried when every corner has a McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks....... It was interesting not to see Coca Cola there. We asked about these changes, which we thought were inevitable. We heard that they don't need Coca Cola, they have "sugar water". Or more burgers, chicken or coffee... They need infrastructure, pharma, hotels, car parts, educational materials---many many things. We want to get the things we need before we add things we don't. "We don't want to add to the war of symbols." Wow!! Television programs are not interrupted by commercials, except public service announcements and education--mostly health oriented. Yes I know, we have more choices. But we have a lot of noise and interruptive messages  too. How would we change our system if we could?

Cuba has many challenges. Poverty is rampant. Inequality is there. Sound familiar? The aforementioned infrastructure is in disrepair or non-existent. But there is a spirit of humanity, of ingenuity, of compassion, and of camaraderie that needs to breathe and grow. US Cuban relations can flourish with great reciprocal benefits to the US and the world. 

As Bryan Stevenson advised: proximity changed my narrative, made me uncomfortable, but even more hopeful. Like all life changing experiences you understand one another, you appreciate our interconnectedness and commonalities. Somos Cubanos!

I encourage you to test your own assumptions, by visiting Cuba,  or anywhere or any population you think you know, but don't. As John Wooden said, "It is what you learn after you know it all that counts."

Thanks for reading. John

 

 

 

 

 


Final Advice to the "Freshman"

Dropped my third child, my son,  at the dorms to start his freshman year this weekend. Three kids and three kids in college! That's what my wife and I set out to do. What we planned and hoped for. Of course, their graduation and successful employment will be the next steps. But we celebrate this milestone.

As you might imagine, my kids have received a pretty steady stream of observations, guidance, and advice from me. My wife and I have tried to give our kids an edge in preparing them for their futures. The edge of confidence to become who they are. The edge of unconditional support so they can take chances. The edge of parents who don't get in the the way of their kids' DNA and talents.

I said we tried. We had our victories and our defeats. Parenting is the hardest mentoring assignment of all! :) It is a marathon of change. You wrestle with how much you push and how much you pull. You ride the emotional roller coaster of puberty and the emerging demand for independence. Parenting is about second guessing, worrying, over compensating, and enjoying the incredible twists and turns. 

In the end, it is a small miracle that our kid's survive their parernts. After doing this a few times I am still not convinced that the nurture is any stronger than the nature. We think the wild stallions need to be tamed, but I have seen the beauty of the stallions and learned how to watch them run.  Pegasus2

In the end, you can only do the best you can. No time for regrets or shouldas. The next chapter is the best chapter and your role evolves. 

Took my son out to dinner for one last session with Dad. We had a manly meal and talked about his future. I told him how I see him and the story of of his growth and development Here  is a summary of what we discussed and my last words of advice before college:

We have tried to teach you and show you how to live your life.You know right from wrong. How to be respect others. You are now responsible for your own actions. We trust you. 

You have a slight head start in the game of life, don't waste it. Your great grand parents sacrificed to come to this country. Your grand parents were placed in internment camps on your Dad's side and escaped North Korea on your Mom's side. Your family has given you the opportunity to go to college with no financial pressure. Make something happen.

Escape certainty--Certainty will be your enemy to learn. If you think you know everything about a topic or have decided not to understand the "other side" of an issue--college is a waste. Open your mind. It is amazing to learn what you don't know. Gravitiate to opinions and perspectives different from yours. Trust yourself but question everything.

Ask for help--The most important thing you can do is to ask questions. Never pretend to know things you don't know. No stupid questions just stupid people who don't ask questions. Seek advice. Takes courage to ask for help because you can't do it by yourself.

Get involved but shop-- Pick organizations and causes that interest you, not just what everybody is doing. Augment your classroom work with experiential education. Internships, volunteering, and jobs can be powerful learning opportunities.

Beyond the minimum--If you get bored, you have not done it long enough. Let yourself get lost in topics and subjects that interest you. Dive deeply into your classes to see where your passions lie. 

It's not your major, its your mojo and your mind.  Explore yourself and everything around you. Take the classes you want. Don't take courses because you think they will help your career. You don't have a career. Your major is secondary. You are looking for purpose and passion not a job.

We had a good discussion about careers and jobs. He asked me which were my favorites jobs. I have been lucky because I have sought these jobs or they sought me. I approached all of them as college degree programs and tried to master them. We will all be a "freshman" many times during our lives. So each of my careers and jobs have been my favorite for the time I did them. But my purpose has been to help people become the best in the pursuit of a cause bigger than us. 

I gave him three things that I had already given him. Three documents I wanted him to re-read anew. He looked at me with those eyes of compliance, not acceptance..... :)

Johnny Bunko, The Last Career Guide You Will Ever Need--Daniel Pink

7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens--Stephen Covey

Pyramid of Success--John Wooden

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.  attributed to Hodding Carter

We can only give our youth and anyone we care about roots and wings. The roots of heritage and humility. And the wings to fly further, faster and free-er. Time to let go now and watch my son fly!

As in all mentoring, the mentors gain the most. We hope the mentee gained something, enough to become their own mentor and the mentor of others. 

Thanks for reading. John


Waiting for Weekends---TGIF, Hump Day, Monday Morning Blues and other forms of Resistance

These strange cultural anachronistic phrases can prevent us from seeing the opportunities in every week. We make cute little monikers for every other day in the week to make time go by fast and give us wimpy little breathers. It's like we are still in 5th grade staring at the second hand of the clock as it ticks off seconds in slow motion and we crave a snack or a nap to get us through the day. Really?! Breaking time into these little digestible chunks takes our eyes off the prize. We focus on the short sprints instead of the marathon and the finish line.

 I get it, if you are stuck in a hard labor, assembly line, toxic job where you have no intellectual or emotional connection to the meaning or purpose of the work. Somehow, you took a job in some sort of prison camp. :) YOU have to plot your escape plan. I'm talking to the rest of you who put in your exhausting 40 hours a week (national average is closer to 35) as a runway for the weekend or evening pursuits. :) And then of course, Mondays and Fridays are the most frequent "sick" days. They still recommend that you avoid purchasing cars made on those days!Weekend So a three day work week for a four day weekend.

I see tremendous waste in talent and potential everyday. People who say they want to excel in their lives but who have erected so many barriers to their own success. Yes, they sabotage themselves! One of the greatest psychological syndromes that we impose on ourselves is our perception of the work week and weekends--How we view time. We inherited or invented rules and mythology about these artificial time lines. Times when we "work" and times when we "rest" and times when we "play". The irony is we know these distinctions do not make sense. We know that life and work get intertwined and interlaced whether we like it or not. We can't turn off our brains or put parental locks on certain of life's channels. You can't compartmentalize your life--"weekends are for me" or "once I leave the office I stop thinking about my career." These are ridiculous ideas if we care about your work and you have ideas about our contribution to the world. Because life happens. Or as the the Southwest flight attendant said, "Be careful when opening the overhead bins, because shift happens." It takes relentless pursuit to catch our dreams. And the clock ticks on..... Photo-clock14

Some of you have heard me rant about the fallacies of a well-balanced life and that we need to pursue a well-lopsided one!

Your minimal 40 hours of work is out of a possible 168 hours a week. If I give you 8 hours of sleep and 4.5 hours of free time everyday. That still leaves you with another full work week!

Yogi Berra said, You give 100 percent in the first half of the game, and if that isn't enough in the second half you give what's left. 

I know some of you moonlight, go to school, pursue your "art", work at non-profits. Fewer of you have set goals and milestones that will define your life--places to see, experiences to attempt etc. But most of you get arrested by the powerful gravitational pull of the couch! Author Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance. Resistance or friction in your life that impedes the development of your uniqueness and greatness. Some of you smirk or roll your eyes. But your life is different and whether you want to admit it or not you have very tangible and special ideas about you future. Your legacy is still being written.

I met a guy on the golf course who told me he would play 3000 rounds of golf before he died. At first this doesn't sound like much. Do the math. He is 62 and he already racked up 500 rounds. So if he plays until he is 75, he has 13 years of golf left. If he plays 4.5 times a week almost every week he barely makes it! Once you start quantifying your goals into years, months and weeks, I know you will view time and Mondays and Fridays differently.

Once I came to these conclusions about time, I re-arranged my whole life about 20 years ago. The difference between Mondays and Fridays melted into days, just days. I started waking up earlier on weekends, earlier than I did for work at that time. I realized how precious time was. I put in more time into every phase of my life. But especially into my career. I realized how I could be more exasperated with myself and others if I did not make more progress towards my goals. Goals that got re-defined by what I valued, enjoyed and loved. That's how I came up with my Download SWIVEL_new_2009 document to help people prioritize these goals.

I must tell you that once I came to this epiphany about time. That I was the master of my time. I am more satisfied and fulfilled with what I am doing and the progress I am making. I am more engaged and focused on who I am and where I am going. And I am told, I am more pleasant to be around. :)

My mother used to say every morning, "Let's get going. Your life is wasting away!" Like so many pieces of advice I was given as a child, I now understand these words.

As Coach Wooden said so well, "Make everyday your masterpiece." And he was definitely talking about weekends too!

Thanks for reading and for your time. John


The Failure Option--Succeeding through mistakes

Think it was Winston Churchill who said, "Success is going from one failure to the next, with enthusiasm." And wasn't it venerable and victorious Vince Lombardi who said, "Either get fired with enthusiasm or get fired with enthusiasm!

Fear of failure or the perfection complex is one of the greatest obstacles to career and life development. Taking risks that lead to mistakes that lead to innovation, that lead to new opportunities, that lead to new relationships that lead to greater fulfillment and impact. Sorry do not know the stories of success that are not peppered with blunders, embarrassment, and yes, failure. DefiningMoments

Excerpts from Joey Green's the Road to Success is Paved with Failure:

  • Michael Jordan did not make his high school basketball team.'
  • John F. Kenendy lost his bid to be president of his freshman class at Harvard.
  • Thomas Edison was expelled from school and invented the light bulb after 2000 attempts.
  • Marilyn Monroe was fired from her first film contract for being unattractive.
  • Abraham Lincoln lost 9 elections
  • Coca Cola sold 400 bottles its first year.
  • Douglas MacArthur was denied admission to Westpoint, twice.
  • Elvis got a C in high school music and was told he could not sing.

Failure is the challenge to keep on keeping on.

I have endured some pretty crazy interviews for jobs. But my favorite of all time was the one conducted by the iconic Vinod Khosla. The interview which consisted of two questions and 90 minutes of conversation. He started the interview with, "John, how do you define meaning in your life?"  This was like a verbal brick wall for my twin turbine engine interview prep to slam into. Had to down-shift into a gear to answer that question thoughtfully. That prompted an amazing give and take on regrets, family, relationships, what really matters, and what we hope to to accomplish before we die. Whoa! Then he asked his second and final question: "Take me through your resume in reverse chronological order and tell me the biggest failure at each of your jobs. Don't tell me what you learned, just the failure." I literally laughed out loud. Never heard that question put that way. We all know that a resume hides more than it reveals so when someone rips back the curtain like that it either evokes a primal scream or pure joy. It's amazing how big the mistakes I made were. Some haunt me, some give a prurient source of pride, and still others remind me of how I did grow. I regaled Mr. Khosla with horrid decisions, immature ideas, and blind-sightedness. It was obvious he wanted to see my risk tachometer and how far beyond the red-line I would and had gone. Not reckless, ethically edgy stuff, but what was the appetite for change and challenge? This interview reminded me of my fallibility but also how far I had come. Guess my failures impressed him enough to get the job.

Don't confuse this type of interview with the trite and predictable attempts by interviewees to convert their "weaknesses" into strengths. Very few people reveal any self awareness of their own failings in the interviews today. As if they have read the same stupid script from Interviews for Dummies (I hope this book does not exist). The robotic answers to the question, "What are your weaknesses or areas you need to improve upon?"

  1. Theatrical pause, with no specific answer.----Never hire!
  2. "I guess I work too hard and just can't stop working." ---- Really? Popular but meaningless response.
  3. "I am a perfectionist."----So how's that working? :) Stupid!

When the eyes and answers provide no windows to the soul, then I yank the reject cord! The ability to articulate what you are working on and trying to improve as a professional, as a family person, as a human being is relevant. Pretending that none exist by using party manners and memorized answers is a recipe for failure.

Being laid off is a failure. And while all too commonplace and often not the full responsibility of the employee, it represents a mistake. Was it a real surprise? Why did you wait to be laid off? So you did not have a Plan B or C, why not? You knew it was not going to be your last job, so how long did you think it would last? And what was your plan after that? And what has this failure taught you about your next move?Yes, there are victims of black fridays with no notice (that's how I was laid off), but most "lay-offs" are foreseen or suspected.

Failure to prepare is preparing for failure. Coach Wooden.

Last week I met Cheryl Dorsey, president of the Echoing Green Foundation. She was the commencement speaker at Walden University's graduation. Her speech was a riveting auto-biographical sketch of her failures and the need for the next generation to "embrace failure". I was surprised to later learn it was her first commencement speech, but it was perfect. One of her many "failures' was her choice to become an MD. Her parents encouraged her and she graduated with honors from Harvard Medical School and became a successful pediatrician. Her parents beamed with pride over the family's first doctor. But Cheryl soon realized she made a huge mistake. She found out that becoming a doctor was her mom and dad's plan, not hers. Sound familiar? So recognizing her long standing failure, she followed her heart and became a social entrepreneur. Despite the monstrous investment of time and money, it was not too late to push the reset button. And her failure showed her the way. Bunko

We all fail and therefore we all learn. Failure is the greatest teacher. Failure triggers course corrections that lead to change and new perspective. Failure forces you to change your network, maybe even your mentor. Failure can redefine you. In Daniel Pink's wonderful The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, the last career guide you ever need, lesson 5 is Make Excellent Mistakes. Most of us say we take risks, or we venture out of our "comfort zones" but we really don't. Fear erects strong boundaries that can imprison our dreams and our successes.

Here's to your next fantastic failure.

Thanks for reading. John


The Passing of a Coach, Mentor and Legend

After an extraordinary life of 99 1/2 years, Coach John R. Wooden died. His legacy is so vast and well documented, I will not spend time here recounting it. If you are not familiar with Coach Wooden please read about him, learn his pyramid of success, buy his books, and learn from his life!Jr wooden

I was fortunate to know the Coach. I was not close to him, but I had many encounters and chances to hear him speak and several lengthy private sessions with him. My kids met him. My wife Sarah and I had an intimate dinner with him several years ago. I have considered him a mentor for many years.

The guidance he provided through his teachings and lessons have profoundly impacted my life. I can honestly say that I am a better leader, father, husband, and person because of the Coach. I am so grateful for his life and for his mentoring.

I want to share with you just a small sampling of the lessons that guide me everyday.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Doing your homework. Practicing to hone your abilities. Anticipating challenges. Thinking about what you are going to do before you do it. Thinking about what you are going to say before you say it.

Be quick but don't hurry.

Keep moving. Take action. Make decisions. Speed is a sign of progress. But don't rush. Don't miss what is around you and appreciate the moment.

Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.

Don't read or get caught up in your own press statements and achievements. Don't become satisfied with your past success. Find your limits. Push yourself to maximize the talent and ability you possess. Watch and learn from your "game films." Be obsessive about how you can improve.

Make no excuses. Your friends don't need them and your foes won't believe them.

Reasons why we are not making progress in our lives are irrelevant. Everyone has challenges and hardships. Talking about the obstacles that prevent us from reaching our goals is wasting time that could be devoted to the achievement of those goals.

Make everyday your masterpiece.

Make each day a new opportunity to excel and do your best. Do good, help others, and set an example while you are awake. You never know which masterpiece will be your last.

These are my interpretations of a few the Coach's thoughts. His Pyramid of Success sits on my desk. I will never forget how he could recite 25 lines of Shakespeare from memory. Or his ability to move an audience without bluster, hyperbole, or ego.

John-wooden-pyramid-of-success-printable 

We are grateful we had the Coach for almost a century. We have lost a great teacher of humanity, but his teachings will endure. We celebrate his life by becoming the best we can be.

Thanks Coach.

Thanks for reading. John